Both Oregon and Auburn are already paying the price for their national championship game in football. They have both landed squarely in the crosshairs of the NCAA investigative division. You can bet something will happen to each school, but it will be nothing like what is supposed to happen to USC, or what did happen to Alabama or Washington, and certainly nothing like the death penalty to SMU.
Oregon will most likely end up getting reprimanded for "lack of institutional control" for not being more diligent in checking out their use of specific recruiting services. It could get sticky, because the Ducks knew exactly who they were using and who they were getting information from. They were Willie Lyles of Houston, a Speed Dynamics instructor who also had personal relationship with recruits like Lache Seastrunk, who signed with UO, and Baron Flenory, who runs Badger Sports Elite 7on7 Camps, and who actually used to work for Scout.com for a time, feeding recruiting fans and subscribers inside information on certain recruits, like Bryce Brown - who eventually spurned Oregon for Tennessee, and athlete Tahj Boyd, who also had the Ducks as runners-up when he signed with Clemson in 2009. Boyd was considered the No. 4 QB in the country by Scout, and Brown was the No. 1 player in the country, regardless of position.
Until then, Oregon had historically recruited extremely well in the northwest, and also in southern California. But Kansas, where Brown was from, and Hampton, Va., Boyd's hometown? Where did that come from?
Sure, UO had recruited some players from different parts of the country, but they were usually players like Jairus Byrd from Missouri and Tucker Callahan from Alabama - both rated as two-star prospects by Scout and clearly not prospects schools from those states were too concerned about losing at the time. But how did the Ducks suddenly get in the picture for talent the likes of Brown and Boyd, and the year before that LaMichael James and Darron Thomas from Texas? It was the equivalent of a person who only had enough money to dine out at Sizzler all of a sudden being seen at Morton's downing a porterhouse.
If you logically connect the dots, Oregon knew their backgrounds and they had a pre-existing relationship with these men who were acting as representatives. Oregon knew these suspected street agents would help steer recruits their way and they paid them handsomely for their services. And all of this would be done in accordance with NCAA rules, or at least as they believe it is written.
They essentially found a way to tap into the Texas talent market by circumventing the rules and merely doing it the 'basketball' way - by recruiting outside of the high school institution).
They used the summer camp approach, or combine, or the club angle - where the person who runs the "private" camp gets personal access to every star kid and can become an advisor for the kid outside of his high school coaches and administrators. This is how trainers become known as street agents.
Once the charges against the Ducks were brought to light by Yahoo Sports and Sports Illustrated, Oregon immediately renounced the NCAA and claimed their innocence.
Is it just coincidental that Oregon's rise to a national-level team happened at the same time they received an influx of Texas-grown talent? No, it is not, because they knew exactly what they were doing. They were simply playing the game as it's been played in the SEC and southwest, as well as in the east for decades in the sport of basketball.
Remember Sonny Vaccaro? He changed the face of basketball recruiting so much that he became a legend with his AAU summer camps. Vaccaro is probably best known for signing Michael Jordan to his first shoe contract with Nike, something that worked out pretty well for them.
Vaccaro took the evaluation work out of recruiting by showcasing basketball recruits at his annual tournaments, starting with his first one - the ABCD All-America Camp in 1984. Now there are dozens of top AAU camps all over the country, all modeled off Vaccaro's basic design.
He started the concept of street recruiters that is so prevalent in New York and on the eastern seaboard. He packaged up and literally sold prospects, especially on the east coast. His camps were so successful that he was endorsed and financially sponsored by shoe manufacturers and clothing companies. Vaccaro worked at times with Nike, Adidas and Reebok, so it wasn't a surprise that he was able to get them to back his ventures, including the first hoops national high school All-Star game back in 1965. Many of the kids featured at his camps - like Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Chris Webber, Kevin Garnett, and Stephon Marbury - ended up going early to the NBA, and they just happened to sign endorsements with those exact same companies. I'm sure that was just another coincidence.
Vaccaro got to know the kids personally, and he became their de-facto agent, setting them up and exposing them to the real agents. During these tournaments, agents joined college coaches in the stands, evaluating and recruiting the same kids. It was sleaze at its best, but since most of the camps didn't happen during the school year and they were privately run camps, the NCAA held little to no authority. They had rules, but they applied to the colleges and the recruitment of high school players. The NCAA has no legal right to regulate outside its membership.
Let's face facts; in both basketball and football this private camp approach is becoming the norm, and in the non-revenue sports like gymnastics or volleyball, most recruiting is done with club coaches. Going through the high school coaches is no longer a must in most sports. With the high school coach you have to do things by the rules. Those outside the educational institutional were rarely covered in recruiting rules. Only in the last couple of decades we have seen this change in the recruiting landscape when it comes to the revenue sports - first with basketball, and now football.
The Sonny Vaccaros of the world essentially changed the dynamic, and now guys like Lyles and Flenory operate under the NCAA loophole that allows "an outside services to distribute and market personal information about a prospective student-athlete to selected colleges as long as the service fee is not based upon placing the kid at a specific school".
The fact that both Lyles and Flenory happen to have ties to Oregon complicates the Ducks' defense. When you combine the name of Lyles with names of current UO players like Seastrunk, James, Thomas, and Cliff Harris, it becomes apparent that the Ducks struck it rich. Paying a $25,000 fee to Lyles right after Seastrunk signed was obviously a wise thing to do. Oregon only has five or six Texas kids on their roster, but they just happen to be their best skill kids.
I know it was a well over a decade ago, but when I was recruiting we would never pay even 10 percent of what the Ducks paid to recruiting services back then. Basically they provided you with another access to film and phone numbers, but you still did your own evaluation. Whenever I was approached by someone saying they represented a kid, my red flag would go up and I'd back the person away.
When the shoe companies decided to get involved with football, they started holding their own camps and combines at colleges, and you know which company held its camp on the campus of the Ducks? Take one guess.
We attended the Nike Camp in Eugene because one of our coaches had a recruitable son, and we saw first hand the Duck coaches actively recruiting one of the kids was in attendance. The kid was Jonathan Stewart. We also saw Phil Knight meeting their recruits outside their locker room.
Now in those days, my Oregon counterpart was Don Pellum, and all I had to do was bring it to his attention and he took care of it. And of course, it was always a two-way street; if he saw something and we needed to take care of it, we would. That's the way things were done then, except of course when the whole conference turned on us after we won a share of the national championship.
I might add that Oregon also used snacks similar to fruit baskets in their recruiting efforts, but quit the practice after we got busted.
I bring those situations up because I know it's outside the statute of limitations. That stuff happened everywhere, and continues to happen, just like legal "bumps" do during the spring evaluation period, even though technically coaches are not supposed to have contact with recruits. It's just the way things are done.
Recently, it was announced that a linebacker, Peter Jenkins - a 2012 recruit out of Dallas, Tex. - had narrowed his choices to Texas A&M and the Oregon Ducks. Like others, Jenkins is said to be connected to Flenory who just happened to have played football at the University of New Hampshire. By the way, one of his coaches at UNH was none other than Chip Kelly.
As Oregon's reach in the Lone Star State grew, it became a crisis for the Texas schools, who don't like the drain of the Texas talent going north to Nike-land. So it wasn't surprising to see schools like Texas at the front of the line to squawk. They were very willing participants in helping Yahoo Sports and Sports Illustrated expose the new monster of west coast recruiting, and their connection to the Longhorns' backyard.
Flenory runs 7on7 camps on campuses like Rutgers, Tennessee, Alabama, UNLV, and San Diego State after starting skills competition camps in New York and New Jersey. Sound familiar? It should, because Flenory has openly admitted he wanted to become the Sonny Vaccaro of high school football. Of course, it helped that he worked for Scout.com once before venturing out to get paid for his services. At Scout, he received a salary; on his own, he received fees, like a consultant.
First of all, don't expect the NCAA to finish their investigation any time soon; remember how long they took with USC and Reggie Bush. Secondly, expect the Ducks to vigorously defend themselves, which they are already doing. The only problem lies in what else the NCAA finds if they decide to declare an all-out attack on Kelly and his program.
Here's the kinds of questions UO should expect to hear from NCAA investigators: Did these "runners" or street agents give a pitch on behalf of the Ducks? Were they acting as boosters of the Ducks? Were the Ducks in constant phone contact with the agents? What was the extent of the agents' personal contact with the recruits? Why did Oregon pay a fee to a service run by Lyles immediately after a prospect like Seastrunk signed with them?
And, of course, Oregon's example opens up a whole can of worms on the process in general. How many other colleges paid the same fee Oregon did, and how many kids did they sign due to use of the service? How much did the kids have to pay to go to workouts or camps, or were they 'scholarshipped' because of hardship and/or outstanding ability? Were the camps or services legal with regard to registering with their state as legitimate businesses, including payment of taxes. Do they have records to verify this information?
Once the NCAA gets their nose into your business, everything is fair game. Much of what they find will probably be outside of the specific charge itself, and that is always the scariest part.
Regardless, the final outcome is not going to change the fact that the Ducks are now sitting at the top of the new Pac-12, and Washington, like every other team in this conference, will need to beat them on the field in order to knock them off their perch.
In the case of the Huskies, it probably means the program will never be fully back until it accomplishes that task. Any NCAA restrictions to the Ducks' recruiting efforts should indirectly help the Huskies, along with all the other schools in the conference.
Finding loopholes in the rules is nothing new, but certainly the Ducks have found help in all the right places to add speed and skill to their team. Just because one of Chip Kelly's former players just happens to be helping them in recruiting is really no different than what others have been doing for decades. This is nothing new. Loyalties are still a part of recruiting, and if you have friends in all the right places, it can result in a positive recruiting outcome.
Oregon rarely had any players out of the state of Texas on their roster. Now they have a half-dozen or so, and it just so happens that they are their best athletes. It's hard to believe it's all just one big coincidence.
For the rest of the Pac-12, the answer is to simply beat them on the field of play, assuming of course that the field is even. However, as we've seen with the Reggie Bush debacle that even if the NCAA sanctions a school, the school can continue to operate while appealing the decision, with very little changing as a result of NCAA involvement.
So when it's all said and done, very little is going to happen to the Ducks unless the NCAA can specifically prove that these street agents acted as "boosters" and deliberately circumvented the rules. I don't see that happening, and even if they do prove it, it will take a long time to corroborate information and get their Ducks in a row, so to speak. Maybe the NCAA will find something else during their stay in Eugene, and that's the way it usually works.
The NCAA will find something, because the NCAA rulebook is like the tax code. It's impossible to be 100 percent compliant, but it probably won't result in a severe penalty, and the Ducks will continue to do what they do.
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